So my husband and I saw Source Code as a safe date night movie this past weekend, when I get home from RT. And it led me to thinking -- I won't really discuss the plot here (if you're SF/F writers and you've already read a review, then you already know the plot, trust me ;)) but I was interested in some of their definitions after the film. (I did find the film enjoyable, for what it's worth.)
They tell Jake, the protagonist, that he's dead inside the film. Jake's a war vet, and he died in combat. The premise is that the military keeps throwing him 8 minutes back in time to relive a certain event until they can figure out how to stop it. These parts are well done. The interesting thing, for me, is when they actually show us what's left of Jake...like the upper half of a torso, with no arms, and saran wrap around exposed guts.
The thing is, that there he's not dead. He's just...not really alive.
I don't want to split theological hairs, but I have sat around and given considerable thought to how much of a torso one can miss and still have what's considered to be a life. The saran wrap part isn't really cutting it -- you need the vacuum of your protected innards for your lungs to function, as well as your diaphragm. He didn't have a breathing tube, or a trach, which in real life would be something of a miracle. Source Code being a film, they also skipped entry and exit tubes, as far as I could tell. You'd need at least one tube going in, to give nutrients, through the nose (down to the stomach) or through the stomach, like a PEG tube, for long term use. And an exit tube, in the case where someone was missing the bottom half of their bowels -- either a colostomy w/bag attached, or a rectal tube, or something, for waste to depart from. (I believe Avatar skipped a lot of these too, for their tubed confinement, although I confess I only saw that movie once, and my memory of those parts is dim.)
In real life, you'd need to be on some sort of cushion to avoid getting pressure sores -- even little old ladies with no weight to speak of get them, in fact theirs are worse, because it's just skin on bone. And there's no way that someone as exposed as the protag was wouldn't have gotten some horrible diseases, much less have not been in an area-51-eras-X-files-style clean room.
But what he was doing in the film, despite the fact that they told him he was dead (and the fact that he was missing 20 different vital tubes) was living. Not a great life, one could even say an ineffectual one, but life nonetheless.
And that's where things like that in real life get tricksy. At the hospital, the people that I consider dead get to have a certain look to them, no matter what their monitors say. There's a corner, and they've turned it, and there's no going back. But there are people who hover just outside that turn, people whose bodies continue to function regardless -- the Terri Schiavos of the world, and that's much tougher. They don't get grey and glassy, they truck along, and...well...it's hard. I have a grandmother who has been in hospice for 3 years, and has had Alzheimer's for 15 years. If something bad happened to her, we would let her go -- but we've also had a very long time to say good-bye. Is what she's doing, and where she is now inside herself, life? I'm not entirely sure. Just as I'm not sure about some of the things that I see at work. I don't want to second guess families -- but I do really strongly believe in telling your family want you want, and getting in into writing, ahead of time.
I just found it really interesting that in this film they tell him he's dead -- and I expected him to be a pile of brain cells in a jar somewhere in a corner -- and then they show someone who, while mutilated, can still approximate basic life functions. Very interesting indeed.